Next Steps

I have just finished my study of Genesis. Over the past week, as I’ve been approaching this milestone, I’ve been thinking about what it is I want to do next. I could move on to a study of Exodus, or I could go back to doing topical studies, or I could try something else.

And as I’ve thought about it, I feel that I would like to be more open about my personal journey. I’d like to share about the spiritual journey I’ve taken thus far in life, and where I am trying to go with it now. I want to talk about the principles and practices that mean a great deal to me, and which ones I am still working on. I want to discuss how I have felt my soul saved by Christ, and how I have tried to become a genuine disciple as a result.

In order to explain my journey, it will be necessary to explain more of who I am and who I was before Christ rescued me. That means shining a light on private areas of my life, such as my wounds and shame. I don’t intend to go into excessive detail about every thing that I regret in life, but I do think it is important to admit at least their general nature, in order to provide hope to others who can relate to those experiences.

As such, these next episodes are going to put me in quite a vulnerable position, and I hope that you will receive what I share with compassion. I’m going to first lay out a little groundwork, though. Tomorrow I will give the roadmap for what the next several days will cover. Thank you, and I’ll see you then.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis Summary

Seventeen months ago I started my study of Genesis. I’ve always had a great esteem for the Old Testament, and during the last year-and-a-half I’ve realized that Genesis in particular is one of my favorite books in all of scripture. Ever since I was a child, I have loved legends and fairy tales, life lessons wrapped in a fable, and Genesis is full of that same sort of mythic storytelling. It has larger-than-life individuals, people who discover important morals, and cautionary tales.

In the beginning we had the story of Adam and Eve, and during my study I focused on how their experiences are an archetype for common experiences that we all pass through, and thus can be interpreted on an individual level. The story of Adam and Eve shows a state of innocence, the loss of that innocence, and the need to be saved from the resultant corruption. The story of Adam and Eve might be completely literal, but even if it is, it also has great value to us as an allegory of our own selves.

Then we had the decline of civilization, the prevalence of evil, and the eventual flooding of the world. I noted at the time that this was a sort of rebirth of the world, a second beginning. Also, it sets up the theme of man being prone to losing his way and that the truly faithful are a great minority.

The rest of Genesis was then dedicated to some examples of those faithful few. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were each an island of faith in a pagan world. Though each faced different challenges, they did share common themes and patterns. In one way or another each of them was a stranger in a strange land, was taken from their usual comforts, was thrust into the wild world where they discovered the true nature of God, and each learned to trust Him above all else. They were imperfect men, but through their trials they grew into the unique identity God had called them to, often receiving a new name to signify this. And usually with those new names came promises, some to be fulfilled immediately, but some to come in God’s own good time.

Of course, this is only a brief summary. Genesis also has a tremendous number of individual lessons scattered throughout. It covers topics such as sacrifice, admitting one’s wrongs, duty, forgiveness, redemption, inner peace, patience, and faith. It illustrates how the good prosper overall, even if not in the moment. It gives example of how to live peacefully, even among those of different beliefs. It makes clear the importance of acting in accordance with one’s conscience, no matter the danger in so doing.

In conclusion, the book of Genesis teaches us how to live in honor with God and also our fellow man. It teaches by example the principles of virtue. Later on, we will have Moses and his explicitly spelled out law, we will have Jesus Christ and his clearly delineated gospel, but here at the beginning we have no formal set of commandments. This does not mean that there isn’t a law being taught, though, there absolutely is, it’s just that the reader is expected to derive what that law is from the stories. Thus, this is an interactive sort of law-giving, one that demands interpretation and application. If we don’t understand exactly why each of these principles exists, or if we don’t know how to abide by them all, that’s alright, more detailed explanation and instruction will come later. For now, though, we have enough to start living a life of faith.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:29-31, 33

29 And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,

30 In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.

31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.

33 And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.

At the end of blessing his sons Jacob once again returns to the matter of where he ought to be buried. Previously he had made a request of Joseph that his remains be buried in the land of Canaan, but now he repeats that charge to everyone else.

And not just any place in Canaan, specifically the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, where his father and grandfather, mother and grandmother, and even his first wife are buried. Which, by the way, this is the first we have heard of Leah’s passing. Perhaps it occurred when the narrative focus was on Joseph sold into Egypt? Presumably it was at some point before the exodus into Egypt. In any case, she was apparently buried in this special cave, where all the patriarchs and their spouses had previously been laid to rest.

The relationship between Jacob and Leah had been a strange one. The man had been tricked into marrying her in the first place and at the time was unable to bring himself to truly love her. But where she had a complicated status as a wife, she had absolutely no difficulty in being a mother, providing Jacob son after son. Thus, she and Jacob had reason to delight together, but also reason to feel intensely awkward.

In the end, though, Jacob showed her great respect, selecting her to be by his side in the grave. We have mentioned Rachel’s burial place previously, and it is notably not in the cave of Machpelah. Why she was not buried there? No explanation is given. I can’t see it being a sign of disrespect on the part of Jacob, I can only assume that there were reasons that we do not know of. But, in any case, the end result is that Leah was the wife that Jacob first lay beside, and she would be the last.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:27-28

27 Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.

We receive a quick pronouncement for Benjamin’s future where he is described as a devouring wolf, taking a great spoil. Admittedly, this description is quite different from the image I had concocted for Benjamin. I suppose this is because his main involvement in the story thus far has been his father’s fear of losing “the lad” when the sons went down to Egypt. That sort of concern for his safety created an image of Benjamin as a delicate and quiet sort, but that was merely an assumption. We never have been shown exactly what Benjamin was really like.

Or, even if Benjamin was a gentler man, there’s no reason that his posterity would have to remain so. As it is, the tribe of Benjamin would be known as a tribe of warriors, frequently filling the ranks of the Israelite army. Notable descendants that would display this fiery spirit include Ehud, an assassin who would slay Eglon, the king of Moab, and Saul, who would be the first king of Israel and lead the nation into battle. Paul would also be a descendant of Benjamin, and though not a warrior in earthly terms, he would be a veritable lion in proclaiming the gospel to the broader world.

And now the blessing of the twelve sons is concluded. Each has received according to the quality of man they have shown themselves to be, and according to the foreknowledge of what their descendants would become. Admittedly, the biblical record doesn’t spell out the fulfillment of each prophecy, but the details we do get consistently show Jacob’s prognoses coming to pass.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:25-26

25 Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:

26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

In the previous verses Jacob had described Joseph as a bough rooted in a permanent fountain of water. He continues those analogies of nourishment by calling to mind an infant and the breasts and womb of its mother.

The womb, with its umbilical cord, represents a direct tether to God. It is our innate understanding of what is good, our childlike certainty of self-worth, our conscience ever reminding us of our divine self. For those that believe that the immortal spirit has existed since before we were born, the womb could also be representative of a pre-earth existence directly in the presence of our Heavenly parents.

The breasts represent the more active side of our discipleship. After the womb a child changes from receiving nourishment directly to now having to work for it. This is our need to constantly return to truth, to dispel the sophistry that surrounds us in the world, to regain hope in the face of cynicism, to unburden our personal sins and shame. We do not do those things only once. We get renewed and then we get renewed again and again.

Innate and constant good, and sources of replenishing and nourishing, these are the blessings that Jacob pronounces upon Joseph. Then Jacob testifies in verse 26 that it is these blessings which have elevated and set him apart in his life. It was these sources of good that raised him to a higher station than anyone in his family had ever known before, and it was what elevated and distinguished Joseph above his brethren. So, too, countless testimonies have attested that it is this grace and goodness of God, the constant nourishment and refreshing of His love, that has made all the difference in the lives of the sincere and the saved. It is God that has taken us from being broken and ashamed, and has made us into His sons and daughters instead.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 46:4

4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

After God’s declaration that Israel will finally become a great nation in Egypt, it might be easy to overlook the two additional promises given next, but they are both significant and touching in their own ways.

For the first one, Jacob may not realize how important it is that God commits not only to “go down with thee into Egypt,” but also to “surely bring thee up again.” Jacob may not know, but God does, that while in Egypt the Israelites will become enslaved. They will become a great nation, but one that is subservient to another.

The Israelites will be great distressed in that time, and they will plead for deliverance. Then how meaningful will this seemingly innocuous pledge to “bring thee up again” become? As the Israelites in bondage review their records, they will realize that God was promising to deliver them since even before the need for deliverance existed. The promise was for them far more than for Jacob.

The following promise is most definitely for Jacob, though, which is that “Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.” This expression means “to close the eyes of one who has died.” God is promising to Jacob that what the other sons have reported is true. Joseph really is alive, and Jacob is going to spend the rest of his life with him, for Joseph will outlive him.

Many parents that have had to bury a child express what a strange twist of the natural order it is to outlive the next generation. We may want to live a long life, but not at the cost of burying our own children. Jacob had to mourn the death of his child once before, but now he is being reassured that the natural order is being restored, and the returned child will continue past himself. This is a very tender promise from God, one that shows His keen understanding of the human heart.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 46:1-3

1 And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beer-sheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.

2 And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.

3 And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:

Jacob has determined to go down to Egypt, but this is a big decision, and before actually following through he goes to Beer-sheba to commune with the Lord. Beer-sheba has shown up a few times in the biblical record before. It was where Abraham made a solemn oath of peace with the king of the Philistines, and the same place where Isaac made a similar pledge. More relevant to Jacob, though, Beer-sheba was the land that he left when escaping the wrath of Esau, suggesting that this was where he was raised.

While in this historical and spiritual place, Jacob has yet another special connection with God, instruction given through a “vision of the night.” God reassures Jacob that he should go down to Egypt, and dwell among the people there. God even promises that in Egypt He will finally fulfill his promise of growing a great nation out of the Israelites. This has been promised since back with Abraham, and now the family is finally coming to the place and situation in which it will occur.

And now we see that there was a special wisdom in how long it has taken for God to deliver this promise. It might have seemed strange that after such a grand commitment Abraham had only one covenant child, and that child also only had one covenant child. In essence, Abraham’s same situation was extended down two generations to Jacob, with no growth whatsoever.

But what if the family had seen explosive growth during those two generations? If that had happened, it seems less likely to me that Pharaoh would have been so willing to receive such a large party into his domain. By keeping the family small, they could be easily integrated into Egypt’s bounty, and once there they could grow unhindered.

When God made his promise to Abraham, He was always going to follow through on it, but He needed to orchestrate things so that the nation would come forth in the exact way that it needed to. With great care and control He led this fledgling household, preserving them as they were until this moment of great fulfillment.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 43:11-14

11 And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds:

12 And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight:

13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man:

14 And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.

At last Jacob relents, allowing his sons to take Benjamin with them to Egypt. I see in this a foreshadowing of God the Father entrusting his only begotten son to Joseph, the husband of Mary, who would also have to go down to Egypt to save a life.

Jacob also has the good idea to send his sons with a gift. I would imagine “the best fruits in the land” would be even more valuable than usual, given the ongoing famine. Also it is wise to carry double money so they can get ahead of any accusation of thievery, proving their innocence by bringing the misplaced money back.

And so Jacob surrenders Benjamin to God, hoping that by His mercy the son will be brought back, and even Simeon as well. In this trial Jacob is much like his grandfather Abraham, committing his son to the Almighty and trusting only in grace.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 41:42-45

42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;

43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.

44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-paaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh had declared that Joseph would be second only to him, that he would have power over all of Egypt, to execute things according to his will. And then, to make his declaration more than mere words, Pharaoh began to publish this assignment to all the country.

He did this by dressing Joseph in fine clothes, so he would look the part of the ruler. He put his own ring on Joseph’s hand and had Joseph ride in his second chariot beside him, so that Joseph would be directly associated with Pharaoh. He sent criers before Joseph, so that people would know to reverence him. He gave Joseph a royal woman for his wife, so that he would have legal claim on nobility. He sent Joseph “over all the land of Egypt” so that his name and face would be known.

What a great deal of effort! And frankly it goes to show the imaginary nature of human power. Pharaoh could have verbally granted any status to any person private, but if he did nothing to publicize it afterward, then the person would still have no power. They could go out and try to command others, but without Pharaoh’s nod of approval the order would only be laughed at. Pharaoh’s power was not some actual thing that could be handed over. It was only an idea, and it had to be cultivated in the minds of the people before it would actually start to work.

Contrast that to the power of God, which God sustains by Himself, in Himself, and of Himself. God is God because He requires no other person to pronounce Him God in order to be so. He may enact his will on whomever and whatever He pleases, with no outer approval. His power is self-evident and self-sufficient. Furthermore, whomever God sees fit to bestow His power, His power will be there, whether it is publicized or not. God had declared that Joseph would be a ruler over his brethren. God had seen fit to give Joseph the gift of interpreting dreams. And no man, not even Pharaoh, could ever take those powers and callings away from him.